The students at have it down: tangerine peels, apple cores, sandwich crusts and the cardboard that held their cafeteria burrito go into composting. Soda cans, forks and spoons go in the recycling bin. And only the rare non-recyclables, like laminated plastics, go into the trash headed for the landfill. But that bin hardly gets anything these days.
One month into school and Albany Middle School students seem to know how to do their part to reduce waste and help save the planet.
A well-developed recycling and composting program at lunch time appears to have most students participating. On a recent lunch hour, students sorted their lunch waste with nary a moment’s hesitation. Busy hands dispensed items into composting, recycling and trash in typically under 30 seconds.
“It’s important because it is helping the environment,” said student Alfonso Guzman after sorting what remained on his tray into the various bins.
Lillian Park explained why: “You recycle so you don’t just send garbage to the landfill,” where it takes up space. "And you can spread the composting on gardens" where it helps grow new plants.
Will Tokunaga, president of the student “green team” at the middle school, launched the recycling and composting program last year with help from other students and the City of Albany's Environmental Resources Department.
He said it is going well. He estimated that the volume of waste in trash bins - now marked landfill bins - has been reduced by half to two-thirds in the past year. And, although he is an eighth grader, Tokunaga credits the sixth graders.
“I think it’s the younger kids who always recycle and compost, who are more responsible about it,” Tokunaga said.
But overall he said most students follow the signs that signify in words and photographs what goes into which bin.
Tokunaga said the school is environmentally conscious on the whole. Although there is no specific course on the environment, "all the teachers make references about recycling being important. They talk about it," he said.
The lunch program, under the direction of chef , uses almost all compostable packaging and locally grown vegetables, including some from school gardens in Albany schools.
The lunchtime recycling and composting program could use some parent volunteers, however.
Claire Griffing, environmental program assistant for the , said the composting is an ongoing education process. "Parent volunteers who can dedicate a lunch period to helping students sort their waste will help" ensure that the program thrives, she said. You can reach Griffing at City Hall at 510-528-5757 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
She said teaching kids to compost and recycle "is really important. Students help their parents to realize the importance of this and then families get into sustainable practices."
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